Thursday, 28 January 2010

Tech-time. . .

Yep - I want one! My current MAC notebook is about six years old and is needs to be replaced soon and I think it will be with this new iPad which seems to do everything I currently use my computer for - at a much lesser price. It'll be great for travelling and looks to be small and light enough to lug around in my rather large purse. While I probably won't use it much as an e-reader (except on planes), I think the screen is large enough to watch movies and TV comfortably. I also really like the fact that the keyboard/stand is also apparently a charger as well. Now we'll just have to wait and see how long it will take for them to be sold in Canada.

Monday, 25 January 2010

A "Tessering" Type of Weekend. . .

Yes, I just finished reading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time which I enjoyed very much though it was far darker than I expected, and while I wasn't jumping from planet to planet this weekend, it did feel like I was crossing a lot of cultural borders and travelling back and forth between various books. I got a surprising amount of things accomplished and yet none of it felt rushed. I have a new "slow" strategy for Saturdays and Sundays in which I continue to wake up at 6am as I do on weekdays, but instead of hitting the shower right away, I make a cup of tea, crawl back into bed and read for four hours - purely pleasure reading; whatever takes my fancy. Then I'm up officially at 10am and the whole day still stretches in front of me. Reading children's literature is a particularly delightful way to start a weekend.

But I was also feeling a bit scholarly so I started dipping into a recent anthology that I've acquired - The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry edited by Tim Kendall. I read the essays dealing with women's war poetry, containing some of the usual blather about how women's poetry has been ignored in the canon because most of it wasn't very good and the genre is masculinely predicated on having actually fought at the front etc. etc. Simon Featherstone's essay on Gertrude Stein and Mina Loy was interesting in its argument for expanding the definition of war poetry to include "an exploratory aesthetics and politics that develop through unexpected, often understated experiences of wartime change." And a footnote in Stacy Gillis's overview essay led me scrambling to my WWI bookcase to dig out The Literature of the Great War Reconsidered: Beyond Modern Memory, edited by Patrick J. Quinn and Steven Trout. This is another anthology of interesting essays and Deborah Tyler-Bennett's look at women poets who used myths or folktales to critique the impact of war had me foraging for my Collected Poems 1912-1944 of H.D. (I really need to organize my bookcases) and making a note to find and read Edith Sitwell's poem "Clown's Houses" and the poetry of Iris Tree (who I know primarily as a subject in paintings by Bloomsberries) and Phyliss M'egroz (never previously heard of her). Hours worth of other interesting essays in both anthologies to read, so I'm keeping them at the ready on the bedside table.
I have to thank George at Great War Fiction for this post on Patrick Hamilton's Gorse Trilogy which contains a character who is a WWI poet. This led me to the previously unknown Black Spring Press, which not only publishes the trilogy, but also the works of Julian Maclaren-Ross, a writer I've been interested in since I read he was the inspiration for the writer X Trapnel, in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, one of my favourite books. In addition to ordering the Hamilton, I also bought a copy of Maclaren-Ross's Bitten By the Tarantula and Other Writing which includes short stories, some novellas and unpublished work, and a bunch of literary and film criticism. My books arrived at the post office on Friday night and I read his film essays, including one on the early films of Hitchcock - it has me itching to watch Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt. From the introduction to this collection, I also learned that Maclaren-Ross married a niece of Leonard Woolf. All roads apparently lead to Bloomsbury . . .
My evenings have been spent at Cinematheque Ontario which is running its Best of the Decade series. I saw three very beautiful films by Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke (Platform, Still Life and The World) and he was actually there in person to introduce them which was a treat. Then today it was a 1954 Italian melodrama, Senso directed by Luchino Visconti followed by Silent Light, directed by Carlos Reygadas, a Mexico/France/Netherland/Germany co-production which was also of interest since it starred Canadian writer Miriam Toews.
Whew. That's enough travelling for the moment. At least I didn't have to pass through "The Black Thing" - just a bit of rain.

Monday, 11 January 2010

On starting a new decade and NOT making New Year's Reading Resolutions. . .

A new year, a new decade. I can't help but look back to the beginning of the "oughts" and think about how bookselling and the industry has changed over the last ten years. Back in 2000 I was working in an independent bookstore and we'd survived the arrival of the chains (the bookstore still exists but is sadly so unrecognizable to me now that I can barely bring myself to visit; it certainly doesn't have the focus on books that it used to and very few of my former colleagues still work there). Online selling and e-books are gaining greater market share; publishers are looking towards embedding books or e-texts with all sorts of multi-media videos etc; and independent bookstores are still in trouble and closing. What's the future for them? I think it can only lie in becoming really specialized or being a boutique type of bookstore with a very dedicated, knowledgeable staff. Pages on Queen St. in Toronto which closed last year due to high rents, was such a store. Even though it carried a wide variety of books, it was the go-to store for small press, cultural studies, art books, graphic novels and small artsy magazines. I loved browsing there - I was always stumbling on something interesting that no other bookstore had. Cinematheque Ontario will be opening their new Bell Light centre next year - it will have more theatres and be the hub of the Toronto Film Festival. I'm sure there will be a cafe in the building but wouldn't it be awesome if there was also a bookstore that not only focused on film books, but had a terrific fiction section featuring international literature to complement their year-long programs of international films? They could also use the theatres for author events or lectures on literature.

The last decade saw the rise of blogging and a great way of quickly reading international book news and connecting with like-minded readers. Only now there are so many millions of blogs out there with each one leading to another and another. It's so overwhelming and time-consuming, not only to read them, but to blog oneself, as rewarding as the process can be. I've certainly cut down - I still have my favourites, but I don't check them daily anymore, preferring to have catch-up days and limit my online reading time.

I'm embracing SLOW this decade. Slow reading. Slow blogging (no pressure, just when I have the time and inclination). Slow cooking - trying to eat more organic, cut down on the red meat and use my slow cooker more often. Slow weekending - it's okay to take afternoon naps and leave some of the chores until later. I need to get out and walk more - without necessarily any destination.

I was a bit too ambitious last year with reading challenges and while I really enjoyed most of what I read, I kept compiling unreasonable lists and making crazy promises, and then not following up on them, and feeling bad about it and the whole thing just became an unending cycle . . .

So nothing too specific this year. In general terms, I'd like to read more poetry (and try to memorize some of it) and art books (I have a pile of artist biographies and books on various art movements - I need to do more than just look at the pretty pictures). I always like to tackle one of the really huge, monumental classics and this year it will be Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities (I've already finished Part One and am really enjoying it so far, so this at least seems entirely possible).

I'm also inspired by Susan Hill's latest book, Howard's End Is On the Landing which I picked up after a flurry of blog recommendations. She decided to take a year away from the Internet, blogging, and from buying new books, to concentrate on re-reading the many books already on her shelves. An excellent idea and I'm going to extend it to my DVD watching as well - goodness knows I own enough films, both those I haven't even watched along with many that I would like to see again.

And I desperately need to declutter this year. Clothes, books, DVDs, endless piles of paper that need to be filed or shredded. So these are my mantras: Slow down. Breathe. Turn the computer off. Walk. Bicycle. Live in the moment. Have face to face conversations with real friends, not electronic ones. Keep going to the theatre. Read slowly and think. Re-read. And repeat.